Former student files second lawsuit over school webcam spying

Pa. school district left the photo-taking feature on after teen retrieved lost laptop

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Hasan's laptop snapped 469 photographs and took 543 screenshots during the eight weeks the tracking software was left running, a fact he was made aware of only when he received a letter earlier this month from the lawyer Lower Merion hired to lead the investigation into the webcam spying allegations.

Letters like the one Hasan said he received were a result of a May court order by U.S. Chief Magistrate Judge Thomas Rueter. The letters were required to indicate the date of webcam activations, and the number of photographs and screenshots taken by each affected student's computer.

In his lawsuit, Hasan named the district; the district's board; Christopher McGinley, the superintendent of Lower Merion; two members of the IT staff, Michael Perbix and Charles Ginter; and five John Does as defendants.

The 18-year-old leveled seven charges in the lawsuit, ranging from invasion of privacy to a violation of his civil rights.

"Plaintiffs Constitutional rights were violated as a result of the School District Defendants' official customs and policy of inter alia, requiring the students to use computers with embedded spying capabilities and then allowing and fostering the unfettered, unsupervised, unmanaged and unprotected use of the computer spying capabilities on the students and other victims," Hasan's suit alleges.

Lower Merion responded to Hasan's lawsuit with a statement issued late Tuesday that defended changes it has made since the Robbins filed their complaint five months ago.

"Given all that has been accomplished regarding the matter of student-laptop security, continued litigation is clearly not the right way to proceed and not in the best interest of the students or the school district community," the district said.

Lower Merion will continue to employ tracking software to locate lost or stolen notebooks but has ruled out using laptops' built-in cameras. "At no time will the Laptop camera be activated remotely nor will screen shots, audio, video or on-screen text be remotely monitored," the district said in a proposed set of revised policies on how it will manage the school-issued MacBooks.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is gkeizer@ix.netcom.com.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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